Summer Lovin’

It’s raining outside, work is dull and everyone is hibernating – what better time to take a holiday? Egg and Palla have been off-radar for the last while, taking their own holidays (of sorts in one case), but we’re back now, just in time for the Northern Hemisphere’s long-suffering players to postpone their holidays and go on tour. Let’s have a butchers, shall we?

Wales

Where are they going? Australia, for 3 Tests

How is it looking? Not too bad on the Welsh side of things – at club provincial franchise regional level, only the Ospreys have been bothering of late – the rest were done and dusted by January (Cardiff clearly didn’t consider a trip to the Palindrome worth practising for), so they re relatively fresh. Gatty is their biggest injury worry, but you would think Rob Howley will cope just fine – the team has a plethora of heads-up on-field generals, and they should be ok.

The Wallabies are ticking over quite nicely thanks – leaving aside the BaaBaas, and the midweek dirt-tracker against Scotland (more of which anon), these are the 3rd, 4th and 5th successive Tests against Wales. The Aussies are in rude health, with the only blot being the form of the Queensland Reds, who contributed a lot of the RWC11 team.

What’s going to happen? Australia will win the series, no doubt about that. This does, however, represent the best shot of a major win for a NH side, so the first Test will probably decree if it finishes 3-0 or 2-1. Given the Aussies will be hurting from today’s loss, we’ll plumb for the Aussies being ready. 3-0, but three competitive games.

England

Where are they going? South Africa, for 3 Tests and 2 mid-week games

How is it looking? The English are thankful to some leniency for the presence of Hartley and Tuilagi, and are basically at full-strength. How capable that full-strength side is, however, is another question. They were dire for most of the 6N, and they still don’t know who, and in what combination, will play at 10-12-13. The gameplan of uninspired bosh and Farrell’s boot won’t have the Boks quaking.

This is Heineke Meyer’s first series as SA coach, and he has picked a squad top-heavy with Bulls and light on top-of-the-table Stormers which is not going down well at home. The supposedly transitional nature of the side, with Smit, Bakkies and Victor moving on, may be over-emphasised – they are still chock full of experience, and peppered with promise as well.

What’s going to happen? The best-case for England is that they don’t get humiliated. We think they will however, with a 3-0 defeat, probably one big loss, and the two midweek games are such obvious ambushes (in all senses) that we are wondering why they are bothering.

France

Where are they going? Argentina. The ARU wanted to take the games out of Buenos Aires and spread the gospel  – there was talk of beautiful Mendoza, but France are going to Cordoba and Tucuman

How is it looking? The French season is still going on, but there won’t be any respite. PSA has picked a young-ish squad, but there is still room for lots of Toulouse and Clermont players, who have essentially been on the go since August. It’s a great opportunity for younger lads like Tolofua, Samson, Buttin, Dulin and, er, Freddie.

Los Pumas will be well up for this – most of the European-based players are being rested for the Quad-Nations/Rugby Championship (notable exceptions Dr Pippo and Roncero), and its mostly locals who will be aiming to play themselves onto the plane to South Africa.

What’s going to happen? Argentina are tough to beat at the best of times – in front of a raucous crowd against their best buddies France, they won’t want to lose. France won’t be too pushed as long as they get a chance to sample some Malbec – and their hosts will gladly lay it on for them. Still, its a fuller strength French than Puma team. We’ll say 1-1

Ireland

Where are they going? It’s three Tests in the Land of the Long History of Chastening Beatings

How is it looking? If you leave aside Leinster, there is precious little reason to be confident from an Irish perspective. Luckily, the Irish gameplan leans heavily on the all-conquering (and mostly Irish) European champions, so there is a positive vibe around the team. Wait, something doesn’t make sense there… Oh yes, that’s right, Ireland are muddled and poorly-coached. And, crucially, are missing 3 irreplacable forwards (Ross, POC, Fez) for the first Test.

This will be New Zealand’s first Test since the RWC11 win, and they have paid tribute to those guys by continuing to pick them, even the ludicrously-sized Piri Weepu. The NZ teams in Super Rugby, with the exception of the Auckland Blues, are going very well, and there is a nice warm glow around the team right now.

What’s going to happen? Gulp. New Zealand don’t anticipate any problems, and they are unlikely to get any. Three-zup as they say down there, with one nasty one in prospect. Deccie will come home a lame duck with blood-curdling war cries like “Sure, we were never going to beat New Zealand” and “Think of all the injuries” ringing in his ears from the combative Irish press.

Scotland

Where are they going? They’ve already beaten a midweek-ish Aussie selection, which is a great start for them. Now, (admirably) it’s on to Fiji and Samoa

How is it looking? In theory, Scotland can build on Embra and Glasgow’s youthful and successful seasons and integrate some of the promising youngsters like Stuart Hogg into the international setup against beatable opposition. In practise, they were awful in the 6N, but today’s win sets them up for a successful series.

After today’s winning start, they are going island-hopping – you have to admire when established teams go to the Pacific Islands, despite of the drawbacks – poor facilities, stifling heat and huge opponents. New Zealand, for all the Islanders they have “naturalised” have never reciprocated by visiting Apia. Poor show, and kudos to the Jocks.

What’s going to happen? We got an NH win from the Scots – and we should get at least one more against one of the Islanders. Fiji were a rabble in the World Cup, but Samoa gace South Africa a real game, and will be dangerous at home. 2 wins, 1 loss.

Italy

Where are they going? The Americas – one Test each against Argentina, Canada and the USA

How is it looking? Italy’s squad is full-strength but for one (significant) injury – captain and marvel Sergio Parrisse. There is quite a bit at stake for Jacques Brunel – this is his first tour with Italy, and he will be looking to have them playing the way he want to by the end of it. The younger players will relish the chance.

The Pumas are likely to scrummage them off the park first up, but they should have it more their own way against the Canucks and Eagles.

What’s going to happen? They should come home with two wins, and a spring in their step for next season.